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Durable Link to this BlogSunday, May 20, 2007

A Saraswat Legacy

While writing, the article, "Kalhana the Chronicler", I was recollecting the days of 1970-72 when I first read "Rajatarangini" while working on my thesis, "Social Life in Medieval Karnataka". In my research piece, I have given a list of dress and ornaments of Karnataka, introduced by Kashmiri king Harsha in his land. These included weaving of Ketaki leaves in their long tresses and fastening of gold knots at the ends of hair pleats. Ornament on the forehead, full pleated saris and tight-fitting half-shouldered blouses rendered the beautiful lasses more graceful. Till then, the Kashmiri variety of the blouse must have been either the usual North Indian long-sleeved shirt or tunic, which could not bring into prominence, the shape of breasts, as effectually as the Deccan pattern of ravake or bodice.

Kashmiri men started sporting gracefully pleats of Dhoti, application of thick sandal paste and tucking long fine daggers, according to Kalhana. The mighty king Lalitaditya's legionaries on their southern conquests greatly relished coconut liquor. A great change from grapewine flavored with saffron to foamy fermenting drink! Coinage was also introduced on the model of that of Karnataka.

Kalhana also mentions poet Bilhana who was court-poet of Chalukyan King Vikramditya (1016-1126 CE), 80 years before Kalhana wrote (1148-50CE). All these historical events came to my mind.

On the religious front, Karnataka has link with Kashmir since 8th century C.E. Kashmiris were Shaiva (followers of Lord Shiva) by faith. The Kalamukha Shaiva gurus built a number of Mathas and educational institutions in Karnataka. There were Kaula gurus also who were tantric worshippers. Even today Kaul is a common surname among Kashimis. Kalamukha and Kaula sects merged in Veershaivism later.

Kashmiris by and large are Saraswat Brahmins and generally known as "Pandits". It is an established fact, that Brahmins settled in the Saraswati valley comprising Punjab-Haryana-Rajasthan area, in earliest times were known as Saraswats. When Saraswati river dried up, some 4,000 years ago, the Saraswats migrated to different adjoining states. One branch went to Kashmir. Another went to Kachh (Gujarath) and migrated through western coast to Goa-Karnataka. This branch of Saraswats came to be known as Dakshinatya (Southern) or Goud Saraswata Brahmins (GSBS).

Like Bilhana, many Kashmiris made Karnataka their home. Kulhana Rahuta, President of Chamber of Commerce, under Hoysalas built the first Saraswat temple in Doddagaddavalli in Hasan district in 1113 CE. Known for unique architecture, the temple of deity of Mahalaxmi is in good condition and receives daily puja and offerings till date.

Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, a Saraswat himself from Maharashtra, translated Kalhana's Rajatarangini 1934 while in prison. It was the first comprehensive English translation after that of M.A. Stein in 1892. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of Independent India, and himself a distinguished writer wrote a very meaningful foreword to R.S. Pandit's book. He summarized as also analyzed the contents of Rajatarangini thus:

"It is a rich store house. It is story of autocracy and military oligarchy; it is the story of the kings and the royal families and the nobility, not of the common folk. And yet Kalhana's book is something far more than a record of the kings' doings. It is a rich storehouse of information, political, social and to some extent, economic. We see the panoply of the middle ages, the feudal knights in glittering armor, the intrigues and fighting, and militant and adulterous queens. Women seem to play quite an important part, not only behind the scenes but in the councils and the field as leaders and soldiers. Sometimes we get intimate glimpses of human relations and human feelings, of love and hatred, of faith and passion. And then there were famines and floods and great fires which decimated the popula

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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